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When Cheap Toilets Aren’t

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Around a year ago, my friend, we’ll call him Ron to preserve his anonymity, and his lovely wife Patience, completed a beautiful renovation on their home. Like renovation hopefuls everywhere, they never intended to blow their budget and they had firm dates planned for completion.  

About 8 months beyond his planned finish date and painfully over budget, he found himself standing in the mostly finished powder room looking at a hole in the floor where the toilet was supposed to be.  In that moment, the next reasonable course of action seemed painfully simple; the answer clear.  Drive to a big box store.  There, you buy the cheapest toilet that they carry which was $175 tax in!  Fill the hole, done.  Ron actually bought 4 of the same toilet to finish the rest of the bathrooms. Wife happy, bank account happy, Ron happy.  AND look at the money they saved, $325!  A good buy, right? …. Or was it false economy?

What Went Wrong?

Fast forward to this month when he finally worked it into conversation that their powder room toilet hissed at them like a cat protecting a fresh kill.  It was going off every three to four minutes.  “It’s been driving me INSANE”, he lamented.   This is a toilet that’s not even a year old.  Do we not expect these things to last?  The toilet in my parent’s house is purple, which tells you right there how long our toilets used to last for.  Is it so wrong to expect that same quality now? Is a 25% failure rate acceptable?

Toilet Warranties

Warranty periods, even on higher end brand name toilets like Toto and Kohler are typically one year on parts and five years on the porcelain.  And that’s when quality matters.  IF his toilet is still under warranty, he will have to find his receipt.  Then he’ll contact the store and they will likely say that he can exchange it for no charge.  It’s unlikely he will just get the individual parts he needs to replace because it’s a house brand from China.  There aren’t typically any manufacturer specific parts available for it. Universal parts may work, but that’s not what the warranty will cover.  So, here are the options he’s left with:

Options

Scenario 1

He finds his receipt and they offer to exchange the toilet for no charge.  He hires a plumber to come and remove his old toilet and he returns it to the store.  That service call will be $175.  Then he picks up the new toilet and the plumber reinstalls it, bringing the total to $275.  Now assuming that his time is worthless (sorry Ron), his savings have been diminished to a mere $50, which he can use to buy the bulk-sized bottle of extra strength Advil he will need to deal with this headache when it happens again in a few years because he still has the same cheap toilet!  And that’s the BEST-CASE Scenario.

Scenario 2

The warranty has expired.  He has no manufacturer support and he hires a plumber to figure out which universal part or parts are needed to repair the endlessly cycling toilet.  If the parts are easily available they might be on board the van but toilets vary so much that his plumber may need to source something from a supplier that will work.  This can add up.  For example, after a service call to diagnose, sourcing parts in the $50 range, and a return call to replace those parts, the cost could easily be in the $300 – $325 range completely absorbing any savings that Ron had gained.

The lesson here is that buying a cheap toilet isn’t always going to save you money.  Sometimes it’s more like a deferred payment.  

How can you save money and avoid this happening to you?  Here are three tips. 

  1. Have your plumber supply the fixtures – Many homeowners think they can save money by supplying their own fixtures.  Sometimes they buy them online, at box stores, on clearance, or on Craigslist.  And like Ron, they do initially, save.  However, when something goes wrong, they are also on the hook for all the labour to correct it.  R&B has a warranty that is simple. If we supply it, and it’s defective within our warranty period, then we will make it right.  No extra charges, no running around for the homeowner.  Parts AND labour for a period of one year.  
  2. Buy quality – Nobody wants to replace any part within a year of the purchase. For household fixtures we should be able to expect them to last until they go out of style.  If R&B supplies the fixtures for your renovation, we have access to a higher quality professional grade, product line, and often the pricing we can get for our customers is still below retail.  And we don’t charge PST saving you 7%.
  3. Buy New– For some things, used is OK – See our blog on how (and when) to buy used plumbing products.  For the things that matter, it’s important to buy from a company who will provide all the pieces, and allow you to return anything that’s defective or missing crucial parts.

Ron is still figuring out what to do with his cheap, alley-cat toilet, but you don’t have to share the same fate.  If you’re considering replacing a fixture, or wondering how to remedy one that’s not working well, let R&B be your guide.  

UPDATE:

We are pleased to report a success story! Neither of the predicted scenarios came to pass. Ron found his receipt and went to the store where they gave him the part he needed from the ‘demo’ (demo?!) model. Ron then achieved a DIY homeowner satisfaction by replacing the part himself. Good for you Ron! Wife happy, bank account happy, Ron happy. Sometimes it works out. If the other three toilets keep going strong, you’re ahead of the game. Fingers crossed!

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